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Explained: Rahul Gandhi Calls RSS A Secret Society, Compares It With Muslim Brotherhood, What Does It Mean?

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at an event in United Kingdom also called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a fascist organisation.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at an event in UK
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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi compared the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with Muslim Brotherhood during his ongoing tour of the United Kingdom (UK). 

Rahul is on a weeklong tour of the UK where he has so far delivered a talk at the University of Cambridge, met members of the Indian diaspora, and participated at an event organised by a think tank. 

Criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Union government and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rahul also spoke about the BJP's ideological parent RSS. He called it a fascist organisation.

Here we explain what all Rahul said, what's fascism, and what's Muslim Brotherhood that Rahul is comparing RSS with.

What did Rahul Gandhi say?

In his latest set of comments in UK that have attracted the BJP's ire, Rahul called the RSS a fascist secret society. 

A secret society is one that has secret membership rituals, initiation methods, and carry out a particular set of functions secretively with little outside knowledge. Examples include fairly casual organisations such as US college fraternities and sororities to influential group like the Freemasons and Skulls and Bones whose members include three US Presidents — William Howard Taft, George HW Bush, and George W Bush. 

Besides calling it a secret society, Rahul at an event hosted by think tank Chatham House also called RSS a fascist organisation. 

He said, "You can call it a secret society. It’s built along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood and the idea is to use the democratic contest to come to power and then subvert the democratic contest afterwards."

Rahul also accused the RSS of capturing Indian institutions ranging from the press to constitutional bodies like the Election Commission.

He said, "It’s shocked me at how successful they’ve been at capturing the different institutions of our country: the press, judiciary, Parliament, Election Commission – all the institutions are under pressure, under threat and controlled in one way or another."

What fascism, why Rahul called RSS fascist?

Fascism is a political ideology that developed in Europe in the 20th century that broadly envisions a totalitarian regime where 'national interest' override individual freedoms and liberties. 

Italy and Germany were rife with fascism during 1919-45 and it was reflected in their alliance in World War II. This is why the World War II was the war of two vastly different visions of the world — one of a free world and another a fascist world that's totalitarian and inherent racist.

The Britannica Encyclopaedia says, "Although fascist parties and movements differed significantly from one another, they had many characteristics in common, including extreme militaristic nationalism, contempt for electoral democracy and political and cultural liberalism, a belief in natural social hierarchy and the rule of elites, and the desire to create a Volksgemeinschaft (German: “people’s community”), in which individual interests would be subordinated to the good of the nation."

Though it's an elaborate ideology rooted in a particular historic context, fascism has over the years been used to refer to dictatorial regimes that don't respect democratic norms. It is in this sense that Rahul refers to RSS as a fascist organisation as he critcises RSS and BJP of disregarding democratic norms and personal and political freedoms in India under Modi government. 

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Political opponents and dissidents have often called strongmen leaders fascist which might not always be correct. In its proper sense, racial supremacy is essential to fascism, notes John Broich, Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University.

"Above all, fascists view nearly everything through the lens of race. They’re committed not just to race supremacy, but maintaining what they called 'racial hygiene', meaning the purity of their race and the separation of what they view as lower ones. That means they must define who is a member of their nation’s legitimate race. They must invent a 'true' race," notes John in an article for The Conversation

What is Muslim Brotherhood?

Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist organisation with its roots in Egypt. Its objectives are pan-Islamist and it has influenced terrorist groups like Hamas.

The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 in Egypt by schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna. The organisation seeks to establish a global Islamic state governed by Islamic law called sharia, according to think tank Counter Extremism Project (CEP).

"The Muslim Brotherhood is a transnational Sunni Islamist movement that seeks to implement sharia (Islamic law) under a global caliphate...Banna [founder] was concerned with what he considered the greatest threat to Islam: the rise of secularism and Western culture in Muslim societies. To counter this danger, Banna began dawa (proselytization) in schools, mosques, and coffee houses, spreading his pan-Islamist ideology and emphasising the need to return to sharia," noted CEP.

Islamism refers to a range of beliefs that use Islamic symbols and texts for political purposes. While some have explained it as "political Islam", others say it's a broad spectrum of beliefs that uses Islamic religion for sociopolitical objectives. Scholars emphasise that Islam and Islamism are not the same.

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Writing for Washinton Institute for Near East Policy, Soner Cagaptay notes that Islamism is not Islam but a political ideology that misuses the Islamic religion for its objectives.

He writes, "Islamism is therefore not about the Islamic faith. Rather, it is a dystopian ideology that distorts religion and reality to fit its 'anti-' platform...For starters, Islamism is anti-Semitic in promoting the view that Jews are evil. Because Jews live in Israel, it is also anti-Israeli, and it is also anti-American due to its distorted view of Jews' role in the United States."

Cagaptay emphasises that Islamists misuse Islam to fulfil their sociopolitical objectives. It's an ideology not "for" something but "against" several things like Jews or the United States.

The Muslim Brotherhood is among the oldest organised Islamist organisations that have inspired seveal others over the year, such as the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas that controls Gaza Strip. 

"The group’s [Hamas's] ideology blends Islamism and Palestinian nationalism and seeks the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.Since 2017, Hamas claims to have severed its ties to the Brotherhood," says think tank CEP.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been designated as a terrorist organisation by several countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates, according to CEP.

(With PTI inputs)

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